Investing in Local SEO

  • June 25, 2015

Google currently controls the majority of the search engine market:

“Based on stats obtained last month, Google enjoys the bulk of the UK search engine market share, handling 88.38% of all queries, comfortably ahead of Microsoft’s Bing with 6.7% and Yahoo with 3.54%.” – Google

Most people like money, or at the very least don’t want to squander it, so it seems logical that ~88% of your investment should be with Google, be it time or money. Whilst you shouldn’t outright ignore the other search engines, Google is clearly still the king of search. Google provides website designers and developers with a few easy ways to inform the search giant as to how we conduct business and who our customers are. This article covers a few fairly easy to implement steps, with a relatively high return on investment using Google+ Local. So what is Google+ Local? Read on to find out how it can help improve your sales.
 
Google has used many names for their business directory. It currently goes under the name Google My Business, and is referred to as Google+ Local on many of their internal support pages. The idea remains the same; create a business listing on Google and give it accurate information about your business for use in search engine results pages. This removes the guess work and provides invaluable customisation to you, the business owner.
 

Know Your Enemy

To give you a feel for how this works, let’s start by separating two different parts of a normal Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
 
Below is an image of the Google Local Pack, which is named as such because it quite simply contains a pack of local results:
google local pack
The local pack can contain between three and seven results relevant to your target area. This is where we want to be seen as it has several advantages, such as showing an address, star rating, map listing and links to the knowledge graph.
 
Below is an image of Google’s knowledge graph:
google knowledge graph
Google’s knowledge graph collects information from a database of over 1.6 billion facts, which are collected by machine learning algorithms. We can influence this data, and this topic will be covered in a later article as it’s a little more technical. One of the main sources Google uses for this data for is their own business directory.

Owning Local

Online marketing should be treated like its offline counterpart in many respects; don’t run before you can walk being one. Both local and national businesses can benefit from increased exposure at a local level, but keep in mind that it can be hard to gain traction in a national campaign, if the company is unknown as a local business.

Gaining local business is often far easier compared to national clients for obvious reasons. There is comfort in knowing that you don’t have to drive 50 miles to get an answer to your query. The opposite is also true, in that if people in the local area have never heard of your business, you probably have a brand awareness issue. Organic growth should always include local demographics.

Steps to Going Local

Below is a list of required action points that we can follow to ensure our business appears in local results. This isn’t set in stone as Google changes regularly, but is a good base on which to build.

  • Register on Google My Business
  • Complete your profile with unique information, logo, photos, opening hours, etc
  • Verify your address – Important!
  • Add schema address markup to your website
  • Set a service radius, if applicable
  • Get reviews

Register on Google My Business

First you need to register a business on Google My Business, then click the “Get on Google” button. The next page requires you enter your business name and town into the search bar. This will either show your business listing or allow a new one to be created. This is also a good way to check for duplicate listings, which will dilute the power of your main listing. The rest of the registration process is fairly straight forward, and just requires you to continue to fill out the form with your business information. Business name, address and phone number are a huge factor in how Google treats your listing so keep it consistent.

The last two options on the form are “I deliver goods and services to my customers at their location” which allows the option “I also serve customers at my business address”, being pretty self-explanatory, and you would need to check this if you have a “service area”. It may not look important but it’s a powerful option whether you’re a local company or a national company with several offices. Essentially what this does is it allows a service radius to be set which will add an overlay to the Google maps listing. Anything that will make our listing stand out is a good thing.

Complete Your Profile

It can be tempting to copy and paste your business description and other details from your website. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to do this. Google has a vendetta against duplicate content of all kinds. Although not critical, it is worth getting into the habit of writing completely unique content for each site you make a listing or profile for. This includes descriptions, tag lines, keywords, and photos.

That being said, I’m going to completely contradict myself here, and say copy and paste your business name, address and phone number. Keeping the name, address and phone number identical is the easiest way of ensuring Google knows who is who. Local SEO geeks often call this Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP) Consistency. Keeping these specific details the same has two main advantages. Search engines will know it’s our business, instead of creating duplicate listings with very similar details, which will decrease the efficacy of our main listing. NAP Consistency also makes finding duplicate or old listings a lot easier. Cleaning up old listings can have a positive effect on an SEO campaign as the data will be correctly associated. If content is king for websites, consistency is king of citations.

Verify Your Address

Verifying your address is by far the most important part of creating a Google My Business account. Verification through Google usually requires entering a 5-6 digit verification code that you need to wait around a month to arrive on a postcard from Google. If this is not entered into Google’s website, the only person that will see your listing is you. Google, annoyingly, sends a postcard which looks like junk mail and often gets treated as such, so we strongly recommend that those who handle the mail at the business are informed, so they can keep an eye out for it. Be aware that the verification postcard can take up to three months to arrive but usually turns up within a few weeks. Sometimes, if you are lucky, Google will let you verify with an automated phone call, but from my experience this seems to rarely appear. Once you have the code, simply enter it in your account page to get verified and start showing in Google results.

Please note: changing your business address or phone number will probably cause another verification request.

Add Schema Address Markup

This isn’t a required step, but often expedites your company being displayed in Google’s knowledge graph and local pack. In layman’s terms schema markup is code placed on a website to make deciphering by search engines easier. In this example it will let Google know the exact layout of our address. This should help prevent any confusion about where we are based, which in turn will increase your overall local relevancy on the SERP.

The idea is simple but can be difficult in practice, depending on the Content Management System (CMS) used and permissions granted. I use a tool called the Schema Creator to generate the relevant code, usually an “Organization”. There is an example below:
schema example
Enter you company details then copy and paste the provided code to your website. Small styling changes may be needed to make sure it is aesthetically pleasing.

Set a Service Radius

If your business provides services or products to an area, you should consider setting a radius as below:
google local service area

This is designed more with tradesmen and similar businesses in mind, so if you own a brick and mortar store this often doesn’t apply. I tend to use an example of a computer repair shop. They may provide their services to a specified area but also allow customers to drop their computers to the store to get fixed. Obviously a clothes shop doesn’t service an area so would ignore this step. These two options will help Google to associate your business with your chosen area. As with all SEO, don’t try and cheat. You will get caught out eventually.

Get Reviews

Reviews and ratings shown on Google results pages are gathered from various sources such as Scoot, Yell, TrustPilot, and many others. Whilst using these services can be beneficial, we can reduce the confusion of managing all of these sources by simply focusing on one; attaining Google My Business reviews.

We could add schema markup for ratings and reviews, then spend hours managing accounts at each of these sources and hope Google spots them quickly. We should instead focus our energy on obtaining reviews directly on the business page created in the previous steps. This will bypass several steps in the citation acquisition process and is usually picked up far more quickly. When given the option I work smart, not hard.

Google requires at least five ratings on your My Business page to start showing in search results. The best method of acquiring these is to ask current and past customers for honest reviews. It’s worth noting that Google may get suspicious if you have thousands of 5 star reviews and nothing else. As with anything SEO related, keep it natural.

Note: ratings and reviews are interchangeable, depending on products/services being offered. There is little difference nowadays but they were once very different entities.

Check Performance

Changes made are rarely reflected in Google instantly. Usually we need to wait a few days to see any impact, but the end result should be more traffic with higher relevancy. The higher Click-Through Rate (CTR) and dwell time will result in higher rankings for targeted keywords, and can result in an easy all round win. The effort required here is minimal, but the returns are well worth it. It’s not a sexy subject, but it works.

Google will usually tell you when it’s not happy so we should keep an eye on Analytics and Google Web Master Tools. Regularly check CTR, bounce rate, and Structured Data errors to make sure that Google is happy. A happy Google means a happy accountant.

Delegate

The team at Michael Bell One have years of experience in digital marketing. Whether we’re tasked with designing a brand new website or bringing an SEO campaign to fruition. If you want to find out more about how you can benefit from our award winning digital marketing services, get in touch with us by calling Jake Judd or David Park on 01273 478822, complete our online contact form or email us at hello@juddassoc.com.